The robber barons of the 21st century are the platform owners. They have combined the power of network effects with a 20th century corporate capitalist, winner-takes-all approach. Amazon is choking the book publishing industry, Google is dominating advertising, and telecommunications companies are using their control of the pipes to directly compete with service providers. Now Uber is going after the taxi and car rental industries, getting to be larger than established rental car brands, with none of the overhead. All of these companies provide initially good services to customers. But over time their monopolistic tendencies kill competition and the entire ecosystem of innovation.
Automattic’s business model, for one, shows there is an alternative. It supports a shared commons (wordpress.org), while still making a profit (wordpress.com). There are just not the disgustingly enormous profits that some of the Internet darlings are making. As the Internet becomes the worldwide commons for society it is time to regulate the avarice of the platform owners who control much of our lives. Just as electrical generation and water supply became public utilities last century, it’s time we start looking at some base Internet utilities for every citizen. The Worldwide Web is open for now. But we need open platforms to build the next generation of the Internet.
Many members of my generation have shirked their responsibilities and have failed to understand the underlying principles and technologies of the network era. These are people in power in the judiciary, legislature, and business elite. If we ever get out of these handcuffed relationships with our essential communications providers, history may judge my generation harshly.